There have been many tweets and a few blog posts about the striking-looking mind mapper Connected Mind, and I’ve been able to find time to have a look at it at last, as well as add it to the Mind-mapping.org database.
This is a Google app and you will need to have Google’s browser, Chrome, installed to use it. Although it is browser-based, you’ll still need to download it – install the app from the Chrome web store (link given below).
Most mind map software that runs in a browser depends on a web app-server to work. Connected Mind is different – you can work on maps even when not connected to the Internet. This is because CM stores your map data both locally in your Chrome browser’s working store and, when you click the save button, in Google’s app engine. Relying on your browser’s store is risky, so generally you’ll want to save your maps on line as well.
This app is well adapted to making organic, Buzan-style mind maps. It has great features for showing and handling images on the map. It’s hard work though, because of the design of the user interface and the implementation.
The biggest issue – ironically, given the software’s name – is that objects are not really connected, so if you move a branch or shape, everything related to it just stays right where it was. Each related item must then be moved separately. This makes mapping very slow, and to my way of thinking is hard to tolerate in mind map software. I hope it can be improved soon – offhand I can’t think of another that does this.
And there is no way to select multiple objects if you want tomove several related objects at once (there is no provision for rectangle-drag selection, or for Ctrl+clicking multiple items). It does not even seem possible to move the whole canvas if, as often happens, the map seems to be growing too much in one direction. Scrolling seems to be limited once you’re using the whole screen. There is no zooming control, so if you find that a map is growing too big, you’ll need to select a smaller font size, section by section, and then reshape the branches. A lot of work.
It is slow for many operations. Just to select something takes 2 seconds before the yellow selection colouring appears. Similarly for deleting a branch. It’s hard to see why, because your work is all being done locally on data in the browser’s storage. It will only depend on web server response when saving and loading on start up.
Together, those aspects of the design make for a tough and slow mapping experience. But the visual results are powerful.
You can attach rich text notes, images and hyperlinks to branches, but there’s no visual indication of which branches have attachments until you mouse over the branch. For example, most of the branches in the image here link to various parts of Mind-mapping.org, but you can’t tell. It needs attachment icons to show this. This is how it looks when you hover over a branch with a hyperlink attached:
The link is live, and selecting it will open a separate in-app window to show the linked page.
CM can import FreeMind maps – the map above was based on an imported FreeMind map, with variations. Working from an imported map still involves placing and shaping all the branches, but the import operation saves keying in the original map’s text. The FM nodes are hidden until you select a menu item to place them, one by one.
As you add new branches you control their position and shape, but CM smooths the curves for you. Once you’ve placed a few, you’ll find this fairly intuitive.
Although it imports FreeMind, CM does not export anything, not even images. To get a map image you have to use PrintScreen, the Chrome app Webpage Screenshot or other graphics utility. You can’t embed an interactive map in a web page as you can with other browser-based mappers. And you can’t even send a link to someone else. So the only way to share the map is via an image.
CM doesn’t offer a way to make branch outlines – a minor disadvantage.
I experienced some rough edges but I won’t bore you with those, so I’ve set them out for the developer’s reference at the end of this post.
After that analysis, you may be surprised to hear that I like this app – it has great promise, but it does need some serious work on usability and functions.
To download and install Connected Mind, start Chrome, sign in with a Gmail or other Google account, and go here:
https://chrome.google.com/webstore Then search on “Connected Mind”
When you try it, I recommend that you make a mental note of the few keyboard shortcuts, they save time. And view the FAQ.
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Notes for Connected Mind developer, a few issues I experienced:
1. I lost my first map – it asked me to sign in (I was already signed in), but I opened a window to do so, and then pressed the save button several times, but after I closed and went back later, the map had gone completely, both from local and on-line storage. I had not cleared the browser store or cache. Bleh. Fortunately, as I don’t have a lot of faith in the cloud, I had at least saved the image.
2. Sometimes when you move a branch, a message unexpectedly tells you that a branch is child of another, and sometimes says it cannot be a child of the one chosen. This happened when I was just repositioning it slightly and had made it as a child of the one chosen in the first place. But it allows placement there anyway. This may affect an effort to change, for example, the colour or font of a whole branch later, because it has lost track of the underlying hierarchy.
3. If you call up the the context menu (right click) near the right hand edge of the window and then try to go to a cascaded menu item (‘draw hidden children’ for example), it chops off the item that would be outside the window and you can’t read the child names. It should flip over to display on the left, so that the user can see it.
4. Sometimes CM forgets colours set for a branch when placing a new child branch, and once it reset the line thickness (to a thickness I had not used anywhere in the map).
5. Ctrl+Z for undo would be good, so would Del key for delete. These both have toolbar buttons, but when mapping it’s good to minimize hand movement.